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Florida Braces for First Hurricane in More Than a Decade

Florida Braces for First Hurricane in More Than a Decade

Thursday, 01 September 2016 08:40 PM

Hermine headed toward Florida Thursday, set to become the first hurricane to strike the state since 2005 before heading east overland to threaten soy, cotton crops and the U.S. East Coast.

 

Hermine’s top winds reached 75 miles (121 kilometers) per hour, making it a Category 1 hurricane, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said 5 p.m. New York time advisory. It was located 85 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida.

The hurricane will come ashore on Florida’s Panhandle early Friday and then cross Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina where its winds and rain could damage cotton and soy crops. Earlier, orange-juice futures rose to a five-week high as the storm headed toward Florida. Flooding rains are forecast for the storm’s path through agricultural areas.

“Bottom line is that there will be some flooding along the path of the storm that will cause damage, up to five percent losses in the swath of the heaviest rain,” said Joel Widenor, co-founder of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. “But the speed of the storm’s passage and drier weather to follow will help to limit impacts.”

Widenor said Hermine will pass too far north to be a major threat to citrus. Florida is the second-largest producer of orange juice behind Brazil.

Terminal Closed

When Hermine first entered the Gulf, offshore oil and gas output fell as companies pulled crews off rigs and platforms. That trend reversed with the storm’s track toward Florida, however on Thursday Chevron announced it will shut its Panama City, Florida, terminal overnight as a precaution, with plans to reopen tomorrow, Braden Reddall, company spokesman, said in an e-mail.

By Tuesday, Hermine could be meandering east of Delaware and south of Long Island, New York. A tropical storm watch has been extended up the Atlantic coast to Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

Hermine will drop as much as 10 inches, (25 centimeters) of rain across northwest Florida and parts of Georgia through Friday, the center said. Some areas could get as much as 20 inches.

“Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the coast within the warning area beginning tonight,” the Miami-based center said. “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

State Emergency

Florida Governor Rick Scott ordered state offices in 51 counties closed at noon Thursday after declaring an emergency Wednesday.

A storm like Hermine could touch off widespread power outages. Duke Energy Corp. has staged about 1,200 repair staff in north Florida, where the utility owner expects the worst damage to power lines, spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said by phone Thursday.

On the Florida Panhandle, Southern Co.’s Gulf Power utility is moving repair crews to Pensacola, closer to the storm’s expected landfall, spokesman Jeff Rogers said by phone. Another 100 staff are headed to the region from Southern’s Mississippi and Alabama utilities, he said.

“We’re probably already feeling some impact,” Grant said. About 5,000 customers of about 150,000 in the Tampa Bay area were blacked out Thursday afternoon, she said. “We have had a lot of rain. It rained pretty much all day long yesterday and pretty much all day today.”

Following Wilma

Hermine would be the first hurricane to hit Florida since Wilma in 2005. It could also push as much as 6 feet of sea water on shore as it hits, said Ed Vallee, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. While only a small area will face hurricane-strength winds, tropical-storm winds of at least 39 mph will be widespread, he said.

Insurance losses from Hermine’s strike should be “manageable” because it will miss more heavily populated areas, according to Meyer Shields, an analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods in Richmond, Virginia.

Hurricane watches and warnings are posted along the Florida panhandle, while tropical storm warnings and watches extend from Florida to New Jersey.

Through the weekend, a frontal system across the northern U.S. could allow Hermine to stay close to the East Coast, Vallee said. Areas along the U.S. East Coast from the Mid-Atlantic states to the Northeast could experience high waves and beach erosion.

Hermine is the Atlantic’s eighth named storm and fourth hurricane of 2016. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

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Hermine gathered strength to reach hurricane status on Thursday as residents of Florida's northern Gulf Coast scrambled for sandbags, stocked up on food and evacuated low-lying areas ahead of what their governor called a life-threatening storm. Hermine is expected to be...
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Thursday, 01 September 2016 08:40 PM
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